When the leopard-spotted Portuguese girl in her Contemporary Literature class – Margarita? Magda? – told Manira to “enjoy magic class,” she thought she was in for something like she’d gone through with her Mentor, a one-on-one exploration of the Words until they stumbled over combinations that worked for her. The biggest problem she was envisioning was remembering not to show off too badly – hiding her true power around a juvenile like Linden-Blossom shouldn’t be hard for her.
When she saw the set-up they had going to test the students – and it was clever, too, efficient and with a lot less flailing about than her testing had involved – she was primarily worried how she would keep the strength of her power from the reedy maths professor who was watching her like a hawk.
By the time she walked out of the subsequent class – deep, deep in the bowels of the complex, with a goblin-like half-breed who called himself Akatil Yixox, a blonde cheerleader sort who would have a made a nice snack, and a short person who hadn’t decided if she really wanted to be a girl yet – all that concerned Manira was how long she would be stuck in this stupid body with its stupid limitations and weak, weak magics. She could barely find the essential gear in a clock, much less the essential emotional weak spot in a person!
What was worse than the fumbling failures and the strange sympathy in Yixox’s lizard-like face was the fear that she was going to have to go through the whole thing again – not just relearning her powers step through painful, clumsy, explosive step, but the Becoming. She’d been prepared to fake it, but that she might not have that need was terrifying – because she didn’t know what she would Become.
For nearly a decade, she’d stayed in this form, bound by the terms of her oath, but she’d always thought her true skin was just a slip-shift away. Manira, the true Manira, had probably not known she was a halfbreed Ellehemaei when she bound Manira-who-was-not – that Daeva, who now wore that skin, certainly hadn’t had any clue. A human lifetime had seemed like nothing, an easy few years to keep her word and make a young girl happy.
An Ellehemaei lifetime, even a half-blood’s life… that could be centuries. Eons. How long was she going to be stuck in this goody-two-shoes’ inadequate skin? Was she ever going to get her tail back?
She wiggled her hips a little, feeling the lack of drag where there should be a lovely little whip of a blood-red tail. Linden-Blossom had some of the same coloring – was it possible it was a descendant of hers? Maybe just a cousin… Daeva bloodlines could get rather convoluted, and she’d never been that good at keeping track of that sort of thing.
And it mattered not at all right now, didn’t it? Professor VanderLinden was her Mentor, and he certainly wasn’t Manira’s grandson! She had to play the role to the hilt, even if – especially if – she was afraid she’d never be free of it. Anything else would make her an oathbreaker.
“Manira.” The deep, warm manly voice stopped her in her tracks, the taste of bitter dark chocolate and rum on her tongue. She looked up, slowly, trying to cover her distraction with the façade of shyness. After all, she was still new to all this boy-stuff. Mom hadn’t let her date much at all, so there’d been horses and piano lessons and…
…and Ambrus, the torque gleaming against his chest, his tattoos looking like tiny cracks into the void, his lips curled in something that could be called a smile only if you’d never seen a hungry tiger.
“Hello, Ambrus,” she squeaked, not even trying to ignore the warm tremor that slid down her spine and curled her toes.
He took her hand in his, and she let him, her fingers limp against the sun-baked-stone dry warmth of his skin. Even his lips, as they brushed against her knuckles, were dry, as if nothing as human as moisture had ever touched him.
“Wednesday night,” he said, his voice thick with want. “I’d like to take you to dinner.”
Dinner wasn’t what she wanted, unless he was the main course – and the desert. But good girls didn’t say things like that, even when they were throbbing with need. “I’d like that.” If only to find out what he’d come up with, under here, for dinner. If only to find out what he’d do afterwards.
“Good.” He released her hand, and bowed elegantly. “M’lady, I will see you then.” He strode away before she caught her breath - strode away. Had he been that manly, that male before? Was it her? Was she making him more aggressive?
She kind of liked it. She’d always liked the toy-boys and sweet-thing girls, the innocent sorts she could mold and corrupt, the submissive sorts she could direct and condition. Pushy types got in the way of what she wanted far too often. But now, now she could see the appeal.
Several halls away, Reid slipped into his office. He had perfected the art of not being seen – especially by teenage girls with one-track minds. Ambrus, on the other hand, had perfected the art of grabbing the attention in the area, although he normally focused that attention on his mistress, not himself. No-one had seen Reid watch that little scene.
Ambrus stepped in a moment later, buttoning his shirt up nervously. “Well?” he asked, looking anywhere but at Reid.
He wished he had the skill with people that some of the others had, to be able to deflect the boy’s obvious embarrassment, or even to understand it. It had been a marvelous performance, something to be proud of.
The best he could manage if he tried to voice that, though, would be hokey and awkward, so he didn’t make the attempt. “It’s definitely her, though damned if I know how she’s doing it. And, from what I can tell, she’s as affected by what you’re doing as you are by her thing. I’ll talk to her Mentor.”
“Linden?” Ambrus looked ill. “He’ll tell Re… he’ll tell my lady.”
Reid allowed a bit of grim satisfaction into his voice. “Not by the time I’m done with him.”
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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